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Have Your Say: How can we get the biggest bang for our giving-back buck? Add to ...

Craig and Marc Kielburger founded Free The Children and Me to We. Their biweekly Brain Storm column taps experts and readers for solutions to social issues.

When a six-year-old finds a stray toonie on the sidewalk, it’s exhilarating. The mind races with possibilities, most of which aren’t good for young teeth. But there’s also some shrewd calculation involved – how to get the maximum sugar from this once-in-a-lifetime treasure find.

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We grow up still determined to get the biggest bang for our buck. We clip coupons and shop around for the best deals. Same goes for our philanthropy. As charitable donors, we want our dollars to make the biggest possible difference. But there are as many options for giving back as there are candies in a corner store.

So for the sake of dreaming big, let’s say you found $100 – on the sidewalk, in an old pair of jeans, or through a larger-than-expected income tax refund. You decide to donate your surprise surplus back to the world. How would you maximize its impact?

Your $100 could help a child overseas or someone in your neighbourhood. You could buy a homeless person lunch once a month for a year or contribute to cousin Bobby’s college textbook fund. You could invest in a micro-loan for a farmer in India or an aspiring entrepreneur anywhere in the world. Or you could reserve that money to pay a premium for more ethical purchases every day – fair trade T-shirts, organic greens, local produce – that make a difference over time.

If the thought of stumbling upon $100 seems farfetched, think of it in real terms. For most of us, our budget for charitable donations is carved out of hard-earned income, at the expense of other wants and priorities. Giving wisely is as important as researching any other household financial decision.

So whether it’s found or it’s budgeted, our donation dollars are precious and full of potential.

This week’s question: If you had $100 to make a difference in the world, how would you make the most of it?

THE EXPERTS

Cathy Barr, acting president and CEO of Imagine Canada

“Learn more about the charity through its website and annual reports. Or better yet, get involved as a volunteer, provide a service pro bono or consider joining the board. And don’t make the mistake of using an organization’s overhead spending as the sole gauge of its effectiveness – look for a clear articulation of goals and evidence that progress is being made towards meeting them.”

Eliza Scheffler, research analyst at GiveWell.org

“Low-income people in developing countries have dramatically lower standards of living than low-income people in North America. Giving your donations abroad to support evidence-backed programs in global health and poverty alleviation can have a much greater impact than giving domestically.”

Tony Maiorino, vice president and head of RBC Wealth Management Services

“Many of the world’s most underprivileged are small plot farmers and their families. Helping them to be more productive through micro-loans and other agricultural programs benefits the whole family with more food, income, health and education.”

Have your say in the comment section.

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